Seen from the inside, especially when stories of struggling artists are thrown into the picture, Malawi’s creative industry is a newly born baby struggling to get to its feet.
Which is true, if one talks to veteran artists such as Lommie Mafunga, whose verdict is brief and damning: “For the most part, the life of a Malawian artist revolves around struggles: struggles with piracy, struggles to secure deals with record companies, and struggles to live life in a dignified manner. To make matters worse, veteran artists are not remembered, except when they die and people mobilise resources to decorate their [artists’] tombstones”.
However, World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo) seems to hold a different view. To the international body, Malawi’s creative industry is a land strewn with riches— tapped and untapped.
In its rating of Malawi’s arts industry, Wipo indicates, in a write-up prepared on June 17, that the creative industry has passed the 3 percent mark, in terms of contribution to Gross Domestic Product (GDP), further indicating that, with incentives, the contribution could be more meaningful.
It quotes its own study to justify the findings.
“A 2013 Wipo study estimated that Malawi’s creative sector contributes around 3.4 percent to the country’s GDP, highlighting its importance and significant growth potential. On the strength of these findings, national decision-makers are actively supporting efforts to build the nation’s creative ecosystem. Fostering the conditions for Malawi’s creators (visual artists, musicians, authors, filmmakers and more) to thrive will support their drive to improve the country’s economic outlook.
“The creative sector is an important asset for countries like Malawi that face low commodity prices in global markets and a host of technical barriers to trade in export markets,” the study indicates.
It further says, if nurtured, the local industry can reach the levels attained by African countries such as Kenya, where the creative sector accounts for 5.3 percent of GDP, twice the figure for agriculture.
It adds that in Nigeria, Nollywood, which is described as “the world’s fastest-growing film industry”, the creative industry creates more than a million jobs and has annual sales of up to $5 billion.
There is hope, therefore, that the industry could rake more in revenue after the enactment of necessary laws.
In 2016, the government ramped up its drive to translate the promise of Malawi’s creative wealth into concrete economic outcomes. In July 2016, Parliament passed a new Copyright ACT which sets the scene for Malawi’s creative sector to take full advantage of the opportunities of the digital age, bringing the country’s copyright law in line with current international intellectual property (IP) standards.
“Malawi’s new law makes it possible for us to better promote the economic rights of creators and to crack down on piracy,” the report quotes Copyright Society of Malawi Executive Director, Dora Makwinja-Salamba, as saying.
However, the extent to which the Act will turn the fortunes of Malawian artists will be ascertained by the passage of time.